As comic book movies increase in popularity and frequency, Hollywood is casting stars not just to return to play the same characters in multiple movies, but are looking to cast these actors in completely different roles. This trend, most recently seen in the casting of Josh Brolin (who plays Thanos in the MCU) as Cable, will likely only continue as studios reboot franchises and characters for new generations.
Some actors are lucky enough to land one major comic book character on the big screen while others have the pleasure many times over. For still others, a comic book role may not work but they get a second chance elsewhere. In this list we look at that last third, exploring 15 actors who have jumped from the panel to the screen in multiple roles.
15. MICHAEL FASSBENDER
On of the most recognizable names on the list is Michael Fassbender who replaced the legendary Ian McKellen in the role of Erik Lensherr/Magneto. Fassbender first played the master of magnetism in Matthew Vaughn’s 2011 film, “X-Men: First Class” before reprising the role in the two sequels “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “X-Men: Apocalypse.”
It was another comic book film that gave Fassbender his feature film debut, though: “300.” That movie is based on the Frank Miller and Lynn Varley Dark Horse Comics miniseries of the same name. Both the comic and the film are a dramatic retelling of the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae in which a small band of Spartans and other Greek allies held off a much larger force of Persian invaders. In the film, Fassbender plays the role of Stelios and has one of the most memorable comebacks to the assertion that the Persians’ arrows are so numerous they will block the sun. “Then we will fight in the shade.”
14. AARON TAYLOR-JOHNSON
Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s first turn in tights was in the 2010 film adaptation of “Kick-Ass.” The film was based on the 2008 comic book series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. In the film, which is about a high school student who, despite no special powers or training, decides he wants to become a superhero, Taylor-Johnson played the title role of Kick-Ass, aka Dave Lizewski. Taylor-Johnson returned in 2013 to reprise the role in “Kick-Ass 2” alongside Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl.
Taylor-Johnson returned to super-heroics in the role of Pietro Maximoff, aka Quicksilver, in the post-credits sequence of Marvel Studios’ “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” before reprising the role in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Unlike his sister Wanda, Pietro never got the opportunity to join the Avengers as he was killed off in the climax of the film’s battle of Sokovia. Given that Quicksilver was killed off so quickly, it seems possible that Taylor-Johnson could return in another role somewhere down the road.
13. NICOLAS CAGE
Nicolas Cage is one of the most prolific actors in Hollywood, but among his many credits are a couple turns as comic book characters. The most famous of these is playing the role of Johnny Blaze, aka Ghost Rider, in the 2007 film and its 2011 sequel “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.” Cage’s performances as Ghost Rider were not popular or profitable enough to get the studio to continue making films and the rights to the character were returned to Marvel, which used a different version of Ghost Rider in the last season of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Wedged in between his two turns as Ghost Rider, Cage also appeared alongside Aaron Taylor-Johnson in “Kick-Ass” as the superhero Big Daddy, aka Damon Macready. In the film, Cage based his performance on that of Adam West’s Batman from the 1960’s television series. While it was as over-the-top as his other roles, his time in Big Daddy’s boots was generally well-received.
12. MORENA BECCARIN
Morena Beccarin has long been a fan favorite for genre fans, beginning with her starring role on the short lived television series “Firefly” to her subsequent roles in “Stargate SG-1” and “V.” In the CW’s series “The Flash” Beccarin lent her voice to the future computer known as Gideon. She took a much more prominent role as Dr. Leslie Thompkins in Fox’s “Gotham” series, a Gotham city coroner and girlfriend of Detective Jim Gordon.
Beccarin went from one side of the law to the other, teaming up with the mercenary Deadpool played by Ryan Reynolds in the 2016 film “Deadpool.” Beccarin plays Vanessa, who is based on the comic book character Vanessa Carlyle, aka Copycat. In the comics, Vanessa is a mutant shapeshifter who became a prostitute and later fell in love with Wade Wilson. Her comic book story involves Domino and Cable, who are both slated to appear in the Deadpool sequel. Whether or not Vanessa may be revealed to have any mutant powers in the sequel is not yet known.
11. STEPHEN AMELL
Actor Stephen Amell is most well known for his role as Oliver Queen on the CW series “Arrow.” This series and Amell’s role as the television version of the Green Arrow helped launch an entire stable of comic book television series by writer/producer Greg Berlanti, which include “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Legends of Tomorrow” and “Supergirl.” The billionaire playboy turned vigilante is a common superhero stereotype and Amell delivers the best modern Batman performance on television in his role as Green Arrow.
Amell turned in his bow and arrows in 2016 for a hockey stick and mask as the vigilante Casey Jones in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.” Jones was introduced by TMNT creator Kevin Eastman in “Raphael” #1 and would go on to be a fixture character for the TMNT franchise across comics, video games, television and film. While it doesn’t appear that Amell will get to play Jones again anytime soon, CW is keeping him busy on his own show and guest-starring on the other Berlanti series.
10. BRANDON ROUTH
Brandon Routh’s career is on the upswing because of his lead role on the CW series “Legends of Tomorrow.” Routh’s character Ray Palmer is also the superhero The Atom whose mechanical suit allows him to shrink and grow in size, fly and access a battery of beneficial technology. Routh debuted the character on “Arrow” before being spun off onto “Legends of Tomorrow” with other Berlanti series characters.
Before he was The Atom, however, Routh starred as the first big screen Superman since Christopher Reeve. In the 19 years between “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” and “Superman: Returns,” there were abortive attempts to bring the character back to the big screen, but the wait was worth it for the performance that Routh gave. Despite the flaws of Bryan Singer’s film, Routh embodied Superman in the spirit of Reeves in his one chance to play both Clark Kent and Superman.
9. HALLE BERRY
One of the most famous and successful actresses in Hollywood, Halle Berry got to play both an iconic mutant hero as Storm and a villain (and sometimes anti-hero), Catwoman. Co-starring as Storm, the weather manipulating member of the X-Men, Berry appeared in four of Fox’s films, including “X–Men,” “X-Men 2,” “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” While she was not really the focus of any of the films, she was a presence evocative of both the comics and the animated series.
In 2004, Berry starred in “Catwoman,” which was a rather divergent adaptation of the comic book character. Instead of Selina Kyle, this Catwoman is named Patience Philips, and instead of being a highly trained human, she has special abilities, and instead of taking place in Gotham, the story takes place elsewhere. This is one addition to the Batman universe that it is probably best to forget.
8. JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN
In 2009, Zack Snyder followed up his success of adapting one Alan Moore comic by adapting another one in “Watchmen.” In this film, based on the critically acclaimed graphic novel, is set in an alternate and dark 1985, where superheroes are either retired or working for the government. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Edward Blake, aka The Comedian, whose death sets the events of the film in motion.
Morgan returned to the DC film universe in 2016 when he played Thomas Wayne in the opening of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Morgan is currently starring as the villain Negan on AMC’s television adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s comic book series, “The Walking Dead.” Negan is a character that comic book fans have long wait to see on the television series and the hulking leader of the Saviors is a continuing menace with his barbwire covered baseball bat Lucille. In any dark timeline, Morgan is an actor that seems to fit in perfectly.
7. SCARLETT JOHANSSON
A working actress since she was a child, Scarlett Johansson first starred in the adaptation of independent comic book, “Ghost World.” However, she shot to superstardom when she joined the Marvel cinematic universe in “Iron Man 2.” As Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, the former Soviet assassin and spy turned agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. would go on to appear in “The Avengers,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and “Captain America: Civil War.” Johansson is set to reprise her role in “Avengers: Infinity War,” but the character’s fate after the showdown with Thanos is unclear.
Most recently, Johansson was the center of controversy as the star of the live action adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell.” The film was based on the 1989 Japanese manga series by creator Masamune Shirow, which had already seen an anime adaptation in 1995. Casting Johansson in the lead role of Major, even though she was a Caucasian actress, resulted in a public backlash and very disappointing box office numbers.
6. NATALIE PORTMAN
Protege to an assassin, planetary Queen, evil ballerina, and First Lady are just a few of the roles that Natalie Portman has played. The Academy Award winner co-starred in “V for Vendetta” as Evey. The film, based on the Alan Moore and David Lloyd comic series of the same name, is set in a future Britain where a totalitarian regime has taken control and a freedom fighter named V in a Guy Fawkes mask stages terrorist attacks against the regime. Portman’s character of Evey is swept up in the events of the revolution and V’s plots.
Portman moved from DC to Marvel in her role as Jane Foster in “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World.” Playing the scientist and love interest to Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in the films seems not to have been her favorite role, however, as she has failed to reprise them in subsequent Marvel films. She is not set to appear in November’s “Thor: Ragnarok” so it appears her time as Jane Foster may be over.
5. WILL SMITH
A rapper turned actor turned mega star, Will Smith took his first comic book role in 1997 as Agent J in “Men in Black.” The film was based on the comic book series “The Men in Black” by writer Lowell Cunningham and artist Sandy Curruthers. Smith would reprise the alien fighting special agent role in the sequels “Men in Black II” in 2002 and “Men in Black 3” in 2012. It seems unlikely but another MIB movie could bring back Agent J back one more time.
From comic book hero to comic book villain, Smith joined the cast of David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad” film in 2016. Co-starring as the hitman Deadshot, Smith got some of the best scenes of the film, including a dramatic arrest scene with Batman. Smith has signed on to a multi-picture deal to portray the character, but given the relatively fluid nature of the DC film slate, it is uncertain when we will next see him in the role.
4. BEN AFFLECK
Sometimes your first attempt at playing a superhero does not go as well as expected. This was true for Ben Affleck, even though he is a talented artist as both an actor, producer and director. In 2003, Affleck starred as Matt Murdock in “Daredevil,” but despite a star studded cast that included Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell and Michael Clarke Duncan, the film was met with mixed reactions.
Affleck took a second swing at the superhero game in 2016 by taking on the role of Batman and his alter ego Bruce Wayne in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Inspired by an older Frank Miller version of Batman, Affleck inhibited the role in a way that silenced many doubters. Affleck had a small a cameo in “Suicide Squad” and will be returning to the role in “Justice League” and its sequel. A new Batman stand-alone film “The Batman” is currently in development as well, with Matt Reeves currently attached to direct and Affleck to star.
3. RYAN REYNOLDS
Ryan Reynolds is one of the stars that seems to have some of the most genuine love for comic book source material that Hollywood is strip-mining for gold these days. Unfortunately for Reynolds, his first few attempts at the genre in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “Green Lantern,” and “R.I.P.D.” were disappointing. The highest profile of these was “Green Lantern” where Reynolds starred as Hal Jordan and fought a giant cloud while in a cgi suit.
As bad as his “Green Lantern” film was, his portrayal as the character of Deadpool in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” was perhaps his least popular role (through not fault of his own). Thankfully, Reynolds, along with some leaked test footage, was able to get public and studio support for a Deadpool film to be made. The 2016 release led by Reynolds brought superhero action and comedy to a dark and dirty R-rated level and was a massive hit. Reynolds reprised the role for a short that played in front of “Logan” and a sequel is currently in pre-production that will expand to include other X-Men characters like Cable and Domino.
2. CHRIS EVANS
“The Fantastic Four” has a long history of underwhelming film adaptations, but Chris Evans was one of the highlights in the 2005 Fox movie and its 2007 sequel “Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer.” Evans played the brash, hot tempered, attention seeking Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch. Johnny wasn’t the deepest of characters but Evans’ charm showed through. To his credit, at least he wasn’t in Josh Trank’s even less popular “Fantastic 4.”
Evans found the role he was seemingly born to play in 2011, in “Captain America: The First Avenger” as the title character, Steve Rogers. As the Marvel cinematic universe has expanded, Evans has played a character who has changed a lot yet stayed true to his ideals despite changing circumstances and decades. As with many of the actors involved in the MCU, Evans’ future beyond “Avengers: Infinity War” is unknown, but he has recently hinted at a willingness to maintain the role in the future.
1. JOSH BROLIN
Veteran actor Josh Brolin has been a name and a face that most comic book fans have been familiar with since his big screen debut in “The Goonies” in 1985. In his long career, he has attempted to dip into comic book films multiple times playing Jonah Hex in “Jonah Hex,” Young Agent K in “Men in Black 3” and Dwight in “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.”
Brolin has played Thanos during brief appearances in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” leading to his role as the primary villain in “Avengers: Infinity War.” The big recent news however is that Brolin has been cast to co-star in “Deadpool 2” as the time traveling mutant, Cable. Created by Rob Liefeld and debuting in “New Mutants”#87, Cable both personifies the 1990’s big muscles and big guns trend and becomes a central figure in all of X-Men continuity thanks to his parentage. With both films scheduled for 2018, Brolin is going to be the center of the cinematic comic book universe.
Who else played multiple comic book characters? Help us complete our list in the comments!
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